June 23, 2006
As bad as U.S. fans might feel for the home team, feel great for Ghana, which advances to the second round in its first World Cup. (Quick stay? Brazil next.)
The Lead Item
Two Words For You:

In crime, there's "blackmail." In business, there's "greenmail."

Now, there's "Brownmail."

The Knicks fired Larry Brown with $40 million dollars left on his contract. The team refuses to pay him a dime, saying it fired him "for cause."

(Right: "Cause" he was terrible. "Cause" the team stunk. "Cause" he was a bit of a head case. Zing!)

Brown, of course, would like the entire nut, which would be the equivalent of paying him a $1,739,130 bonus for each of his 23 wins last season.

His contract includes a clause that any payout dispute would go directly to David Stern for arbitration. It's a tough position for the commish.

How should he decide?
I have a creative solution:

Brown gets nothing: He hardly earned it, and it would be both a shame and a sham to let him walk away with $40 mil after doing such a terrible job.

Knicks fined $40 million: For being stupid enough to make him that kind of offer, even though it was obvious from the start (to some) the fit was going to be terrible.

Give the $40 mil to charity. Invest in fixing the broken youth-hoops system. Make it a pension fund for old players and NBA coaching lifers.

Better still: Give Knicks season-ticket holders some kind of partial refund.

For one of the NBA's marquee franchises, it can't get much worse than this, but that doesn't mean it's going to get any better.

But Stern can start the rehab process for Knicks fans brutalized over the past year by the combo of Brown, Thomas and James Dolan by giving neither Brown nor Dolan what he wants.

U.S. Soccer: What's Next?
Bruce Arena may (or, more likely, may not) be with the U.S. for the World Cup in 2010 (that is, if the U.S. even qualifies). But what has to happen between now and then to make the U.S. more competitive?

Yesterday, I labeled the U.S.' loss to Ghana as "The Curse of Adu," because Arena left young Ghana-born Freddy Adu off the U.S. World Cup roster. It was meant as a joke, but it worked out.

But Adu could be U.S. Soccer's savior. As Michael Davies pointed out in his live blog of yesterday's loss, the U.S. is a superstar away from being much more competitive.

Just 17 now, Adu could be that player in four years. It'll take him leaving MLS and going abroad -- playing against the top competition in the English Premier League or one of the other top Euro leagues.

Then he can morph into a feared striker to finally give the U.S. the international star it needs to become a World Cup squad that's a contender.

'Roids Watch
Who is more humiliated?

Victor Conte? The BALCO impresario who is suspected of offering to give the "Game of Shadows" reporters inside info on grand jury testimony?

His lawyers deny it, but court documents say he danced around the idea with the reporters. How do the rest of us know that? Because of Humiliation Contender No. 2:

Or the feds? Government lawyers investigating the leak misfiled an electronic document yesterday: Anyone online could see redacted sections by selecting them and pasting them into Word. Whoops.

(Unfortunately, there was nothing particularly juicy, but it nicely symbolized the entire clusterflub that is the leak probe.)

MLB Hit List
Clemens: Same old, same old. The Astros managed to put up ZERO runs for Rocket in his 2006 debut. (To be fair, they were facing Twins ace Francisco Liriano.) Minnesota sat back and watched Clemens rack up 100 pitches in 5 IP, allowing 6 H and 2 R.

Oregon St.: 4th win in row puts Beavs in CWS final vs. UNC
Miguel Tejada: Trade rumors are swirling (Angels want him)
A.J. Burnett: Back from 2 months on the DL (6 IP, 7 K, 2 R)
C.C. Sabathia: Indians SP says he quit in Wed's L to Cubs
Jammal Brown: Saints T charged w/ domestic abuse battery
Claudio Reyna: U.S. soccer captain retires from int'l comps
Ozzie fined, assigned "help." When Guillen goes to MLB-assigned sensitivity training, who else wants to see "Ozzie on Ozzie," with cameras following him around? (Unrelated: Ozzie was suspended a game for David Riske's plunk a few days ago.)

Pujols: Slow start in return. 0-4 with 3 groundouts in surprise return to the lineup (he was expected back Monday). The Cards were swept by the White Sox, but at least they only gave up one run last night. That lowered Chicago's average run total over the three games to 11.

Miggy Cabrera: RBI of Year? Marlins star lunged to smack a GW-RBI off an intentional ball to complete a Florida win over the O's that included a rally from 5-1, facing Chris Ray (previously 18/18 on save attempts).

Isiah/Larry: What's Next?
When I said yesterday that Isiah Thomas would win more games next season than Larry Brown did last season, that didn't mean I actually think Isiah will do a good job -- simply that he'll do a BETTER job than Brown, who did the worst job possible.

The move to make Isiah coach still could make anyone wonder exactly what Isiah must have on Knicks owner James Dolan. Because even if Isiah is a better coach than he is a GM, that still ain't saying much.

Meanwhile, Brown apologists haven't been paying attention if they think his "Right Way" model is even remotely appropriate for a team like, say, the Charlotte Bobcats, where fellow UNC alum Michael Jordan is in charge.

What was it about the Knicks (Brown's "dream job," remember) that made it such a terrible fit -- and is eerily similar to the Bobcats?

Star player-turned-exec?
Young roster full of rookies?
Inevitable piles of losses?

The only difference will be that, as part of the Bobcats' brain trust, Brown would fail in relative obscurity, rather than the spotlight of New York.

NHL Awards: Rookie
The most heated debate in the NHL this season was over who the top rookie in the league was: Alexander Ovechkin or Sidney Crosby.

Crosby (39 G, 63 A, 102 pts) may yet have the better career, but Ovechkin won the award. (He was the second rookie ever to score 50 goals and collect 100 points.)

Evenly matched stats aside, I think Ovechkin clinched it with his jaw-dropping Goal of the Year back in January -- the one that became an instant online sensation and launched his reputation nationally.

(Perhaps coincidentally, Ovechkin was unveiled this week as the cover player for EA's NHL '07 video game.)

More World Cup
Ronaldo: No More Fatty Jokes
Now, the only thing that's "gordo" is his scoring totals: 2 vs. Japan on Thursday, giving him 14 for his World Cup career, tying the all-time record.

Guus Hiddink: WC's Best Coach
Managing Australia to its first-ever trip to the second round follows coaching South Korea to the semis in 2002 and Holland to the semis in 1998. Will coach Russia in 2010, but maybe the U.S. should swoop in with a better offer.

Speaking of the Socceroos, the most entertaining match of the second round could be Australia, the most physical team left, vs. Italy, the most dainty, flopping fops in the field. Australia will be playing without top enforcer Brett Emerton, among three players ejected Thursday vs. Croatia.

Everyone loves a bracket, so in theory the start of the World Cup's 16-team knockout stage this weekend should be the moment fans in the U.S. can most embrace the tournament (even without the U.S. in it).

Unfortunately, with the bracket not set until 5 p.m ET today (and 2nd-round games starting at 11 a.m. Saturday), the window to set up an office pool is too small. Poor planning by FIFA.

Weekend Knockout Picks:

Smackdown Saturday:
Germany over Sweden
Argentina over Mexico

Stunner Sunday!
Ecuador over England
Netherlands over Portugal

NBA Draft Watch
"Green room" attendees revealed!

Of the more than a dozen players who made the cut, none look like candidates to get the "Rashard Lewis Treatment," sitting in the green room weeping as the draft passes them by.

For me, it's my first chance to evaluate contenders for my sixth annual "Draft Fashion Report."

I'm installing Italian import Andrea Bargnani as the guy to beat, which also means he comes in with the highest expectations. Check back next Thursday morning for a complete analysis.

Heat Parade
The Heat's victory parade is set for today, and to me, there's a single burning question: Who will be Miami's Mark Madsen?

(You remember Madsen, Shaq's valet, who secured his obituary's first line with his memorably awful dancing during the Lakers' parade in 2003.)

Assessing Miami's contenders:

Antoine Walker: 2-1
Pro: Already has the Shimmy.
Con: Won't surprise anyone.

Gary Payton/'Zo Mourning: 4-1
Pro: Nothing to lose anymore
Con: Too busy sizing rings

Michael Doleac: 10-1
Pro: Madsen-like proportions
Con: (Come on … TOO EASY!)

Shandon Anderson: 14-1
Pro: What else is he good for?
Con: Who would recognize him?

Stan Van Gundy: 100-1
Pro: Has had time to practice
Con: Can't see through tears

Atlanta Braves:
10th straight loss (late-inning blown lead) marks the team's worst streak in 18 years. How quickly have the Braves regressed to pre-"division dynasty" days.
Today on ESPN.com
Quickie Live
Page 2 Index
World Cup
Early NFL Power Rankings
Motivated by SB loss?
But what about Big Ben?
Yeah: Heard THAT before
Can Javon Walker help?
Popular preseason mag pick

NBA Draft: The Bobcats (No. 3 pick) had Rudy Gay back for a 2nd workout; is Bickerstaff trying to convince Jordan that Gay is the right pick?

More NHL Awards (nothing unexpected): Joe Thornton (MVP), Lindy Ruff (Coach), Nicklas Lidstrom (Defense), Miikka Kiprusoff (Goalie). (The players picked Jaromir Jagr as MVP.)

John Patterson returns to the mound tonight for the Nats, a day after his romance with "Miss D.C." Shannon Schambeau was revealed. Coincidence?

NHL Draft: Name I'm watching for? Jordan Staal, expected to be a top 5 pick that would make him the 3rd Staal in the NHL pipeline. New Sutters?

"Master of Champions" Update: I'll rank this week's winners this way: (1) contortionist archer; (2) unicyclist; (3) drift-car driver.

The biggest guarantee that Larry Brown will be coaching somewhere in the NBA next year? He said: "No, I'm not going to coach next year."

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